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[257] Free Food for Millionaires – Min Jin Lee

“Experience was a funny thing: The downside of knowing things intimately was that she had also, in the process, degraded sex. She was still lost. What was sex for? She’d had good sex, bad sex, losses, and conquests. Stretches without. But more importantly, if she were to take off her clothes again and agree to another round, why? And whom would she love?” [517]

Even for a book told through omniscient narration, Free Food for Millionaires is too long. Convoluted but soapy. Set in early 1990s New York City, Lee’s novel follows Casey Han’s sojourn from naive pride to self-realization. While capturing the thoughts and encounters of the second-generation Korean American, who is a jobless Princeton graduate and dates a Caucasian man behind her parents’ back, the novel also branches out to Casey’s family and friends who, regardless of their class, social status, and religious beliefs, are all caught in deceit that ensnares them. From the beginning, the sexually charged debut hints at the drama would intensify in romantic hopes and losses, in series of betrayals and adulteries.

Yes, of course . . . but . . . love is not the same as a promise to be together always. [27]

Sorry. What I mean is, with love, you have to march into the possibility of losing. [28]

The dynamics of Ella and Casey’s friendship buttresses the novel. As Ella is drawn to her childhood friend for her energy and desires in the same way she is drawn to the hot-shot Ted and his exuberant ambition, Casey loses herself in the confusion between love and sex. Unlike the outward resistance to change and assimilation on the part of her parents, Casey is strikingly similar to her mother, a long-married woman who knows nothing of her world except for her husband and two daughters. As Casey indulges in sex that is sheer physical sensation without emotion involved, mother, a deaconess, commits adultery with the director of church choir. In fact, the entire cast of characters spends the duration of the book falling in and out of love, mistaking (selfish) ambition for love, using sex as gambling chips—all because they are repressed and restrained of their feelings.

They think we’re shit because we’re poor. They thought they didn’t need to go through the trouble— [283]

There is a scene the Han family exchanges wedding presents with the bridegroom’s family. Leah Han lavishes on the gifts in order to present her daughter, Tina, in a class that is equivalent and compatible to the groom’s. The money for the gifts comes out of retirement savings, but despite the luxury of the gifts, generosity is always suspect. Despite the characters’ being sympathetic, unlikable and emotionally train-wrecked, Lee does nail the truth: the worst discrimination there is comes from the very own clan. My verdict? Lots of meat for a romance with affairs going ill-starred and illicit, but for it to be considered literature, the writing is flat and monotonous.

560 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]


6 Responses

  1. Hmmmm. I’ve got this one on my shelves, but it has never called my name. Maybe it never will…

    • I thought I would give it a go since it’s been sitting on the shelf. It’s chick lit really but not really a page-turner like critics have said!

  2. Think I’ll skip this one…

  3. shame it appears too dramatic. Ive always preferred the asian dynamic in stories like this to be a little more subtle. I htink I’ll kip it too…but thanks for doing the dirty work for me!


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